Arthur C. Clarke
After the last two works, this one inevitably felt a lot lighter and more comfortable in tone. It's about a situation where things work out effectively--the characters are competent and enthusiastic in their jobs, such jobs are ambitious and socially beneficial, and the larger society is striving for greater technological and moral sophistication. Putting it this way makes it seem a remarkably cozy work, and one absent of real tension. To an extent this judgement is true--there's some stuff with the counter-scientific forces and religious extremism in the book, but it's rather shallow and doesn't give a sustained sense of tension or drawn out conflict.
Regardless it's still an engaging and interesting work, in the way technical details unfold and the way characters debate and implement various approaches. It's a friendly book, perhaps unambitious by comparative lights, but it's still fun and reflects a part of science fiction that deserves to be heard. As such an early work by Clarke and the genre at large it's also worth reflecting on in a meta sense, given the actual space travel that developed after this novel's publication, as well as the varied formulas for space-related fiction that blossomed. Prelude to Space indeed. I continue to be impressed by the general quality of Clarke's stories, including his less famous ones.
Better than: The Deep Range by Arthur C. Clarke
Worse than: Spin by Robert Charles Wilson